More academic madness: Published feminist analysis of squirrel diets and reproduction shows that squirrels, like marginalized human groups, are otherized, gendered, and fat-shamed

May 8, 2017 • 11:00 am

I’ve written about dumb papers connecting Halloween pumpkins and Pilates with racism, and about how “feminist glaciology” could expel patriarchy from geology, but the paper I’m about to highlight takes the cake.

First, two preliminary comments:

1.) I have never been so ashamed to be an academic, and

2.) This paper is the kind of “scholarship” that is making university studies of feminism—and of much of the humanities—look ridiculous. This kind of work should be criticized and mocked not just by feminists themselves, but by biologists and academics of all stripes. It shows the enormous waste of time and intellectual energy that have resulted from the incursion of postmodern thought into humanities departments.

There. . . I feel better now. On to this paper, published in a recent issue of Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography. Get the link by clicking on the title screenshot; it should be free if you have the free and legal “Unpaywall” app.

The author is described in the paper (I’ve added the link) this way

Teresa Lloro-Bidart is an assistant professor in the Liberal Studies Department at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. She uses feminist posthumanist theories and perspectives from political ecology to study human-animal relationships, especially those developed in educational spaces.

Here is the abstract, packed to the gills with postmodern and obscurantist jargon. Read it!

Now, what is Lloro-Bidart’s argument? To paraphrase Mencken reviewing Thorstein Veblen, “What is the sweating professor trying to say?”  As far I understand it, here’s her argument, starting with some squirrel biology:

  • Around 1900, the eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) was deliberately introduced to Southern California as a pet, and then the animals were released and thrived in the wild, particularly in urban areas.
  • They may have competed with, and partly displaced, the native squirrel, the western gray squirrel (Sciurus griseus), although the fox squirrel, which is more omnivorous, does better in urban areas.
  • The fox squirrel is also partly carnivorous, eating baby birds, bird eggs, and even rabbits.
  • The fox squirrel has two litters per year, the gray squirrel only one.

From these bald facts, Lloro-Bidart did “field work,” combing magazines and newspapers for mentions of the squirrels. She also studied and conversed with others at what she says is her “current fieldwork site, an urban community garden in the greater Los Angeles area.” From these researches, whose conclusions were of course in no way predetermined (LOL), Lloro-Bidart concludes the following:

  • The Fox squirrel has been “otherized” on account of its diet. I quote the author:

“As Bourdieu emphasizes in Distinction and feminist geographer Guthman elaborates on in her research on the alternative food movement in CA, eating is not simply a physiological requirement, but a performance that reflects taste, gender, race, culture, and class position. Depending on the cultural circumstances, those who do not eat ‘properly’ sometimes become the target of racialized discourses  DuPuis elaborates on the second point by highlighting how the complex relationship between food and the body is deeply intertwined with the history of American political reform.

. . . Those otherized as improper eaters for a variety of reasons – the impure – frequently become the target of various gendered, racialized and/or neoliberal discourses and policies to alter their eating habits – supposedly for their own, society’s, and sometimes animals’ wellbeing.”

They’re squirrels, for crying out loud, not humans! The analogy is forced to a predetermined conclusion.

  • The Fox Squirrel has also been otherized and gendered because it reproduces more often than the gray squirrel. It is also fat-shamed. I quote the author:

“These connections between the eastern fox squirrel’s eating of ‘everything’ and the fecundity of the [nonnative] squirrel resonate with what Subramaniam calls the ‘oversexed female’ narrative, where ‘[f]oreign women are typically associated with superfertility – reproduction gone amuck’. While not every article discussing the eastern fox squirrel’s eating of ‘everything’ also raised issues about reproduction, several did – and often concomitantly, suggesting the willingness of the eastern fox squirrel to eat everything is connected to the fecundity of the female. .

“Although none of these statements directly holds female squirrels accountable for these eating practices, they are gendered by implication: female squirrel bodies are those that physiologically deliver litters twice per year (not males), individualizing their bodies as the units of reproduction; in population ecology the term ‘fecundity’ refers to the ‘maximum potential reproductive output of an individual (usually female)…and feminist scholarship has demonstrated that ‘reproduction’ and ‘procreation’ are frequently [and negatively] associated with the human female body, which is constructed as closer to nature.

“While feminist scholarship has examined and critiqued how female animal bodies are uniquely enrolled in industrial farming (e.g. they produce milk for dairy production and, as a result, nursing mothers are separated from their young), feminist research on exotic/invasive species has only minimally considered the manifestation of more implicit gendered reproductive narratives, including how they are discursively connected to eating practices.

“Thus interpreted, these narratives intimate that eating and female fecundity are indeed intertwined, as the foreign squirrel is ultimately successful because she will eat everything, including bird eggs, baby animals, and trash in order to reproduce and outcompete the natives. Not unlike the discourses pervading the literature on feral cats, which suggest that withholding food from female cats is a desirable strategy for decreasing reproductive success, or new research in fat studies that unpacks how fat mothers unfairly shoulder blame for the obesity epidemic as what they eat literally becomes what their children will eat and become these statements, contextualized within the articles in which they appear, discursively perpetuate the notion that eastern fox squirrels are what they eat, i.e. inappropriate squirrel subjects like the inappropriate foods they choose to dine on in southern CA. As feminist food studies scholar Cooks highlights, the metaphor of food as body ‘individualizes the body as the unit of consumption’ and ‘prescribe[s] gender identities via what and how we eat’  Although the female squirrel is not overtly named in these articles, her body and identity thus become gendered as she consumes (eating everything) and reproduces improperly (delivering two litters per year).”

So here we have an intersectional feminist analysis of eating, reproduction, speciesism, racism, and marginalization. The paper goes on like this for 17 pages, and I was much relieved to reach the end.

But to what end was also this tortured analysis? As best I can make it out, it’s to show that we need to de-otherize squirrels and free the Fox Squirrel from its marginalization, allowing all squirrels, regardless of diet, reproduction, and habits, to live in harmony. In other words, Lloro-Bidart is calling for Social Justice for Squirrels. I conclude that from this passage:

These questions have important implications: Instead of characterizing eastern fox squirrels as nest robbers and trash eaters as specific detrimental meanings are attached to the foods they eat (and what their bodies do with these foods, such as deposit scat and plant trees or produce ‘too many offspring’), they demand a reconstitution of human interpretations of these squirrel-food becomings not in speciesist or gendered terms, but through an opening up of the category ‘squirrel’ so that many kinds of squirrels – and other beings – can flourish in suburban/urban spaces.

Of course, “opening up” categories like “squirrel”, and calling for harmonious squirrel diversity, neglect the possibility of invasive species destroying natives, as is happening in New Zealand, where “opening up the category of ‘vertebrate'” could lead to the extirpation of that land’s birdlife, or opening up the category of “plant” could destroy much of the native flora. Not all plants and animals can or should live in harmony.

But Lloro-Bidart is pretty sure she’s on the right track, because she talked with one of her enlightened friends at her “field site” (the communal garden) and that friend didn’t otherize the fox squirrels:

“To provide an example of what this flourishing might actually entail, I briefly turn to my current fieldwork site, an urban community garden in the greater Los Angeles area. This garden, like many suburban/urban spaces in the area, now supports a small eastern fox squirrel population that drops in from utility lines to feed on fruit trees. At the time of the informal conversation depicted below, the Garden Director, Isabel, resided in a suburban neighborhood approximately 5 miles from the garden. We had already discussed the garden’s squirrels several times – and also chatted about many other creatures, including Isabel’s rescue rabbits and pitbull and the resident garden birds who planted sunflowers every year. Prior to leaving this day, Isabel lamented about moving (she was going to miss her backyard western scrub jays, Aphelocoma californica), and animatedly told me about an encounter she had witnessed between a western scrub jay and an eastern fox squirrel in her backyard,

Fieldnote excerpt: April 2016

As I’m getting ready to leave the garden, Isabel and I end up chatting about squirrels. Since I have been enmeshed in doing analysis for my squirrel research project, Isabel’s story began to sound very familiar. She had apparently witnessed, for the first time, a scrub jay chase an eastern fox squirrel away from what she was sure was the scrub jay’s nest given that scrub jays nest every year in the bottlebrush plants that line her yard. Excitedly, she shared that she couldn’t believe that the bird was so relentlessly pursuing the squirrel.

“In contrast to the characterization of eastern fox squirrels as ‘nest robbers’ in the popular press, Isabel was not at all disgusted with the squirrel’s actions. Instead, she appeared entertained by the encounter and was quite surprised that a bird would so aggressively defend her/his nest from a squirrel. While in this case the eastern fox squirrel did not appear to actually make off with an egg or nestling, and if s/he had this might have changed the story Isabel told, her retelling of this encounter suggests a willingness to capture and grapple with animal agency (both eastern fox squirrel and scrub jay) – and her own.”

Good Lord! What is this doing in an academic paper? More important, what is that paper doing in an academic journal? And is that journal really producing useful scholarship? (I couldn’t bear to look.)

I needn’t rant much about the enormous waste of time this paper involved, and the enormous waste of paper (or electrons) its publication entailed, for the paper discredits itself. But of course this is the stuff that many professors in the humanities—deeply infected with postmodernism, poststructuralism, and other “posts”—are expected to extrude: bad ideas couched in unreadable prose.  This paper rates up there with the whiteness of pumpkins and the racism of Pilates as one of the most ridiculous academic exercises of our era.

I close with the author’s amusing “acknowledgement” section. Look at the last sentence—squirrel lived experience! (That’s opposed to squirrel non-lived experience, of course.):

Now I have some experts in my building: the Eastern Grey Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) that I interact with daily. I showed Lloro-Bidart’s paper to one of them, who looked at it al fresco, but then, horrified by accusations of otherizing and fat-shaming, she retreated in disgust. Here’s the sequence of photos:

What is this? I was looking for nuts.

 

This looks nutty. . .
Oh noes! I am otherized!

Thank God I was a scientist and didn’t have to deal with this stuff in the humanities. (I hasten to add that, of course, not all university humanities work is like this!)

 

79 thoughts on “More academic madness: Published feminist analysis of squirrel diets and reproduction shows that squirrels, like marginalized human groups, are otherized, gendered, and fat-shamed

        1. Okay Jerry, I’ll go with your bet. I’m distinctly nervous I’m going to lose, but I really do want to think it’s false; the acknowledgments alone suggest it’s something of a Poe.

          But if I’m wrong I’m more than happy to pay up.

            1. According to the Sacramento Bee database, she makes $66,900 per year. Perhaps she plans to use this article to jump-start a job search for a better paying job in jibberish.

              Or perhaps hanging out in community gardens talking to only one person as an anthropological study has given her a bad case of word salad.

        2. I hate to think what the good Perfesser Lloro-Bidart would make of two guys betting scrip that bears a picture of Andrew Jackson.

  1. To the extent that this paper is about human reactions to squirrels, it has the potential to be kind of interesting. The author, like so many people, seems a little careless about the difference between what people think of squirrels and what this cute little tree rats really are.

    Introduced Fox Squirrels (and, sorry Jerry, introduced Eastern Grey Squirrels) really do compete with and exclude Western Fox Squirrels from some areas along the west coast. The squirrel species really are “other” than each other. (That’s what species boundaries are about.)

    If a person values the native squirrels and worries about loosing them to competition, he/she can oppose the spread of the introduced species for reasons that have little to do with their diets and nothing that I can see to do with fat-shaming. The reproductive rate, of course, is relevant to competitive exclusion.

    1. The author implies that there is no competitive exclusion between the species, so she’s guilty of that, too. Perhaps one can strain to find something of value in that paper, but I can’t. And the author in fact urges what you (and I) don’t want: the extirpation of native squirrels by introduced ones.

      1. Hi Jerry

        In the three photos I see scratches on the edge of the external window frame. The scratches are at squirrel height when standing on the sill. Are they squirrel-gnawing marks?

        All these years of your feeding & they’ve hardly made an impression on the frame…

  2. So drawing parallels between people claiming to be ‘transracial’ and transgender folk is enough to have a feminist philosopher hung, drawn and quartered but drawing parallels between marginalised people and squirrels is fine?

    Nuts.

    1. “hung … nuts”
      I find your gender specific language triggering. I feel as othered as a red squirrel.

    1. I looked that up, and apparently “Angelino” has been in use for a long time, and (according to an article on KCET) was more prevalent until near the end of the last century, though this is the first time I’ve seen it. The article writer considered ‘Angeleño’ to be the proper term.

  3. I was reading an online discussion of the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ about the black female mathematicians who contributed greatly to the early space program.

    One person pithily noted “it’s a good thing they didn’t major in gender studies”

    To me that kind of sums up the problem with the direction of our academic world.

    1. Yep, if the Regressive Left had its way, the women in Hidden Figures might’ve gone into Gender Studies.

      Of course, if the Right Wing had its way, they’d have all ended up as domestics.

    2. I am wary of any discipline that labels itself “Studies.” I noted many years ago that there was a huge difference in competence and knowledge between students of “Environmental Studies” and “Environmental Science.”

  4. Wow, the abstract manages to mention both “feminist posthumanist theories” and “feminist food studies” in the same sentence. No question you’ll get published if you do that.

    This stuff is insane.

  5. If your only tool is a hammer, every job is a nail.

    Much of the modern left is defined in terms of ‘oppression’. Where no real oppression exists, they’ll create it. I wonder how it would even be possible to imagine a world where they can find no oppression.

  6. What I took home from this:

    The fox squirrel needs to be introduced to Planned Parenthood.

    Too many people are in universities who shouldn’t be there. They should be encouraged to “explore new opportunities” (i.e. get a job and a life.)

    Mockery is often the best approach to this bunk.

  7. Blimey, I’m such a terrible human being. I fat-shamed a squirrel this morning on the Ryerson campus in downtown Toronto. A melanistic grey, this furry battleship of a squirrel was about the size of six of the reds I feed at home. “You’re the biggest squirrel I’ve ever met!” I said, so cruelly. I’m lucky xe didn’t run off and press one of the emergency buttons that they have every few yards to call for help, counselling, ice cream and colouring books.

    1. ” A melanistic grey…:

      So you’re a racist, too! I knew it! That’s the real reason you were so cruel to the squirrel.

  8. So here we have an intersectional feminist analysis of eating, reproduction, speciesism, racism, and marginalization.

    Not exactly.

    This would be more accurate: “So here we have an intersectional feminist analysis of the ways humans talk about eating and sexual reproduction among squirrels that maintains socially constructed notions about human women, women’s bodies, and gender roles.”

    I don’t disagree that this kind of scholarship is silly but the analysis is of the discourses and their (supposed) effects, not the actions of the squirrels themselves. The unwritten assumption in all of these papers is that socially constructed realities are reproduced and maintained by the way we talk. The language we actually use, goes the thinking, perpetuates the not-necessarily-true conceptual world of human beings. The predetermined “finding” in this paper is that the way fox squirrels are discussed maintains our gendered ideas of the human female. The maintenance of such ideas perpetuates the subordination of women to the patriarchy or something. The methodology is simple: Take any subject, notice how that subject is talked about, call those discussions “discourses”, note how the English language works to reproduce the reality you already “know” exists regardless of the subject matter, type up your findings, get published, get tenure.

    1. Yes, I was trying to think of a way feminism and the language we use when discussing squirrels might reasonably intersect. Perhaps if we called them “Foxy Lady” squirrels, and routinely referred to them as having nervous, flighty energy like the “disco queens” they are. I suppose that feminist scholars might find something relevant to say about that. Otherwise, the argument seems to be really stretching it, at best.

      1. Ms Lloro-Bidart should be pleased that these female squirrels getting fat hasn’t stopped the male squirrels wanting to have sex with them as they appear to be reproducing as much as before.

        I loved this description (my emphasis): “… the resident garden birds who planted sunflowers every year.”

        And a worrying sign: all those people she thanked “… for providing feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript”. There were earlier versions! And they were presumably worse!

        If this is what it takes to be a feminist these days, I no longer cut the mustard.

        1. Actually, the birds may well have planted the sunflowers, in the sense that they put the seeds under the soil. Of course, from the bird point of view they cached their food for later use.

          1. That’s what I meant – I was laughing about the way she’s referring to it as a deliberate act.

  9. My comment got lost somewhere, so I repeat.
    I noted that most, if not all, ‘academic’ xxx -‘studies’ produce toe-cringing nonsense. How much better could the funds allocated to these xxx-‘studies’ be used to fund some real science?

    1. I am happy that we have (yet) no xxx-“studies” in my country, though this is likely due to our chronic underdevelopment: we are too poor to waste funds like this.

    2. Not to mention, these are usually the same people claiming sexism and oppression because the male/female ratio in STEM fields isn’t 50/50 (although, there are quite a few STEM fields in which women dominate, but we never hear about those ones). Maybe they should take these people and their funds and put them towards something actually productive, like STEM?

      1. Or real humanities. Or public schools. Or apprentice training programs. Or pretty much anything else but this.

  10. ‘lived experience’ – phenomenology!

    One of the phrases I look for in texts for translation prior to deciding whether to give a price so high that the job will be given to one of my competitors. Mwahahahaha!

    1. Yes, ‘lived experience’, ‘othering’, ‘feminist-xxx’, ‘genderised’, ‘racialised’, etc, etc, like ‘xxx-studies’ all red flags: embarassing bullshit is on it’s way!

  11. Clearly, this paper was the result of a coupleof greay squirrals and one or more students in feminine studies sharing a couple of tabs of really bad acid.

  12. That abstract would make a great po-mo Mad Lib. Just replace “squirrel,” “food”, and “animal” with other nouns, and voila.

  13. in her next installment, Lloro-Bidart addresses transciuridism in her provocative: “Is Moose and Svoo-rel — vat ve do, Bor-ees?”: Does Natasha’s cis-privileged stance blind her to progressive alcid-sciurid intersectionalism?

  14. I genuinely wonder whether the participants in these fields actually take it seriously. They must know that “feminist” theories and perspectives is meaningless balderdash that appears in one form or another in every other paper and which means precisely nothing. It’s an idiom at best. There isn’t a “theory” that deserves the name, and “perspectives” are good old opinions with the pretense to be a bit more than a guess. Contrary to the intention of such authors, such language rather suggests they have not the faintest idea what they are writing about. But it’s telling that this still seems to be Fashionable Nonsense within their community.

    Postmodernist terminology still manages to convey a sense of import which is borrowed from actual science, where “theory” is something different from armchair opinions, without being burdened by any criteria.

    This style is still harmful to worthwhile work within humanities, and science. Mind you, the pursuit of knowledge doesn’t have produce something that can be marketed, and doesn’t have to be readily applicabable — but it has to have some use, further knowledge in some way.

    It cannot be a kind of academic art, where intellectual-thespians produce drivel (or “thought provoking art”) just so that the next one can add another tiny number to their equally meaningless (or trivial) paper, perhaps about the structure of “coloniality” in intersectional post-biological ecology studies.

    These people give everyone working in science and humanities a bad name, in addition to the anti-science directly produced by them.

  15. this must be a send up – it can’t be real.

    (Can it?? What a horrible,unnerving thing that would be…..)

    1. It is sufficiently real for “scholars” to get tenured about it, and propagate their lunacy to future generations of students.

  16. British satirical magazine Private Eye has a regular “Pseuds Corner” column. I shall bring this to their attention.

    Hopefully a British magazine publishing extracts from an American ‘academic’ paper wouldn’t be seen as cultural appropriation?

  17. Perhaps we can look forward to a feminist posthumanist pomo deconstruction of “The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin”?

  18. On a related subject. This morning my wife was otherizing spiders again. She forced me to kill it for her in the bathroom. She’s a very sexist person, apparently.

    1. Am I an anti-sexist if I force my wife to kill spiders? The interspecies transdimensional relation between spiders and gender is very confusing. No wonder it needs tenured faculty to work it all out.

  19. TRIGGER WARNING: Reading the above, “study”may bring on feelings of despair and hopelessness as one realizes just how idiotic the world is becoming….

    1. Ooooh, this is fun! Take a political or social movement and pair it with a field of scientific study.

      Marxist Limnology
      Zionist Fluvial Geomorphology
      Capitalist Thermodynamics
      Laissez-faire Volcanology
      Socialist String Theory
      Etc…

  20. I am currently self-identifying as a squirrel.

    I find this entire discussion to be speciesist, culturally appropriative, dismissive of my lived experience, unsafe, marginalizing of squirrels as a class, anthropomorphically ‘othering’ sciurids thus perpetuating the hegemonic presumption of anthropoid superiority, and violently destructive of my squirrelness.

    Also, I’ve lost my nuts.

    cr

  21. A joke and an absolute disgrace which has become normalised in some parts of academia. PCC(E) should get some sort of award for trudging through to the end of this sludge paper and warning us about it.

  22. I’m curious… how do the people who toil away at their community garden feel about the squirrels stealing the fruits of their labors? If they get fed up (or not fed up as the case may be) and then quit gardening, would that be the equivalent of white flight from squirrel thug culture?

    1. Feminist geographer Hovorka, drawing on Butler’s foundational theorizing of performativity….

      You can begin and end right there.

  23. Oy! Did your consumption of mass quantities of Sophisticated Theology enable you to make it to the end of this one? And if you had to re-read 17pgs of either, which would you chose?

  24. That’s an interesting perspective: That nature is inherently antifeminist, and that it is not natural selection, but socially-constructed antifeminist behavior that decides who survives.

    In other words, Darwin was wrong. Evolution is a lie.

    You can’t believe in evolution, and be a feminist, at the same time.

    Fancy that.

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